Antoni Gaudí's Works - An Intrinsic Part of Barcelona..
No visit to Barcelona, would be complete without seeing some of the work of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, or simply Gaudí. Tourists will undoubtedly have visited the famous Church the “Basilica de la Sagrada Familia” and while construction commenced in 1866, its construction is not scheduled to be complete until 2026. The architecture of the Sagrada Familia forms the culmination of Gaudí ’s unique design perspective and engineering prowess. Even for travellers less interested in architecture, the lightness of the Gaudí ’s buildings, the use of curved geometry and lack of traditionally hard lines, accompanied by a myriad of complex detailing, captures interest and draws visitors into three-dimensional spatial experiences. However, in regard to the famous Church, tourist’s will likely focus on its visual experience with little consideration given to the mastermind behind it.
Antoni Gaudí was tragically hit and killed by a tram in 1926 while crossing the road, when heading to the Sagrada Familia on his daily routine. Even more tragic perhaps was that his work was subsequently scorned by the reactionary “Noucentista” movement in Catalan that was more pragmatic, and conservative. As a result, Gaudí ’s work was neglected and never given the regard that it deserved. It was not until the 1950’s when the likes of Savaldor Dali, but more importantly the esteemed architect and city planner Josep Lluis Sert revived interest in Gaudí’s Work. Today, seven buildings in Barcelona and its surrounding environs have UNESCO heritage listings as works possessing outstanding universal value. In its listings, UNESCO states :
The Works of Antoni Gaudí is a serial property consisting of seven buildings by the architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) located in Barcelona and its surrounding areas. The property attests to the exceptional creative contribution of this architect to the development of architecture and construction technology in the 19th and early 20th centuries. …..
……….(which) reflect an eclectic, very personal style to which Gaudí gave free rein in the field of architecture, as well as in the design of gardens, sculptures, and indeed all the arts.
Antoni Gaudí ’s Architectural Style.
Antoni Gaudí was an instrumental part of the Catalan Modernisme movement, a design fraternity that was borne out of a desire to develop a Catalonian national identity. It was particularly prominent from the late 1880’s through to after 1910. While it had parallel’s with the English “Arts and Craft’s” movement, Modernisme Architecture drew much of its inspiration from Medieval and Arab styles. It is particularly distinguished by its preference of curved rather line straight lines, along with its embodiment of rich detail and decoration.
Gaudí ’s professional development saw him create his own distinctive organic architectural brand, that was largely informed from his love of nature and the natural form, the development of industry and industrialised materials, along with a deep Christian tenor. His eclectic works embody significant symbolism and expressionism that lead to an almost surreal atmosphere in many of his works. Perhaps even more stunning is his structural analysis that produced systems of lightweight curved primary elements that were far in advance of the technology of his day.
The Breadth and Scale of Work Undertaken by Antoni Gaudí.
Delving a little further reveals a wide selection of works, located in Barcelona, carried out by Gaudí that are both architecturally unique and visually stunning. His work is even more remarkable as the intricacy design and attention to detail was generated in a time when computers, CAD drawing, and computerised numerical analysis had not yet even been conceived of.
The intriguing aspect of Gaudí ’s work is that until the last years of his life he took on an enormous portfolio of work, with most taking a good number of years to complete. To enable him to undertake such works of scale, a number of intermediary designers created details from Gaudí ’s conceptual workings and supervised their subsequent construction. Many went on to become noteworthy architects in their own right. The process of transferring Gaudí ’s concepts to finished product was made all the more remarkable by the fact this he rarely used formal construction drawings and instead relied on hanging models and graphical representations. Much of his work was taken from nature and figures were crafted from detailed anatomical studies of the elements that the figures were based on.
Distinctive Representations of Gaudí’s Notable Works
This article highlights four buildings that showcases Gaudí ’s work and which every traveller to Barcelona should take time to visit. The Sagrada Familia is the most visited attraction in Barcelona, but Casa Batllo illustrates his unique design skills at a Residential level, Parc Guell is an exploration into the interweaving of architecture into landscapes, while the Crypta Gaudí at Colonia Guell is probably one of his greatest achievements but one that is largely forgotten.
Given the development of Gaudí ’s architectural genre, it would be assumed that his works would progress steadily, ultimately finishing with the commission of the Sagrada Familia. However, as the construction of the four buildings attests to, this was not the case and the various developmental stages of his work were embodied within concurrent constructions. In fact, Gaudí was commissioned fairly early on the Sagrada Familia, in 1893 and the crypt as completed in 1889. The approximate date of constructions for the four buildings are as follows :
- Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (1893 - Present)
- Park Güell (1900-1914)
- Casa Batllo (1904-1906)
- Cripta Gaudí - Colonia Guell (1908-1914)
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia
In most texts the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is described as the “Expiatory” Temple of the Holy Family, and the concept surrounded the need to atone for the sins of Barcelona. Originally commenced under the direction of Josep Maria Bocabella, who led a religious group called the Associació de Devots de Sant Josep, plans were drawn up for a Neo-Gothic Church under the direction of Architect Francesc de Paula del Villar. Bobcabella developed a great regard to Saint Joseph and In its heyday, the Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph had over 600,000 associates. Interestingly, the strict meaning of “expiatory” surrounds the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing, especially in regard to an appeasement of a god or deity. The objective of building the Sagrada Familia was to achieve the ascendency of the Catholic Church in Barcelona at a time when religion was challenged by social changes occurring due to the industrial revolution. Saint Joseph, married to Mary, is regarded as the patron saint of workers and has also been declared the patron and protector of the Catholic Church.
Construction commenced in 1882 but soon after disagreements saw the Architect resign, and the subsequent appointment of Antoni Gaudí then in his early thirties. While the Crypt was completed in 1889, Gaudi proposed radical changes to the main body of the church that was to stamp it with his architectural style developed over subsequent years. Gaudi, himself deeply religious devoted his later years exclusively to the construction of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. While never intended to be a Cathedral, much symbolism and imagery is built into the building which possesses three grand facades and eighteen spires. The depictions, styles and emotion incorporated in much of the work is not without controversy and is sure to make the building a religious focus well into the future. Given its original purpose, it is understandable that fundamental core precepts of Christianity are highlighted both within its main form along with its subsequent adornment.
Not withstanding his premature death, Gaudí understood that the Sagrada Familia would never be finished in his lifetime, and set about a construction sequence that would most likely see it completed. While the intent of Gaudí has been faithfully incorporated into the building, significant aspects of the original detailed design were lost during the Spanish Civil War. The use of modern structural analysis and computer-aided design has since been used to speed up its completion and the project is scheduled to be finished in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
A detailed assessment of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is included elsewhere.
Güell park provides unique surroundings for residents and visitors alike to escape from the compressed urban landscape associated with the more central areas of Barcelona. Situated on a significant hill, the park provides a series of interconnected pathways that link various pavilions and seated areas, allowing contemplation within attractive shaded spaces, or on sunny benched areas possessing enjoyable outlooks over the city. Ultimately, the pathways spiral around the contours of the hill to the highest point where panoramic views of the city can be obtained.
Güell Park is also an area where Antoni Gaudí experimented with his architectural forms within a natural setting. His unique design is featured all over the park, mainly in the various shapes and forms of the various pavilions and structures. Mostly these have been created from natural stone, and consequently, blend with the plantings of trees and shrubs. Here landscape and architecture complement each other in a seamless fashion.
In a lower area of Güell Park, Gaudí extended the concentration of architectural forms, relegating natural elements to its perimeter, and introducing bright and distinct building structures, seated areas, and sculptural elements. Most are adorned with Gaudi’s distinguishable treatment of geometrical tile inlays.
Visiting the park, especially the detailed Gaudí section, has become a popular activity for tourists, both domestic and international, and visitation pressure has become intense. During the hot summer months this can be quite uncomfortable and on these days, visitation should be undertaken during the cooler mornings and avoided completely in the sweltering late afternoon.
It also should be noted that while Güell Park is elevated and obtains excellent views over the surrounding areas, the summer heat haze combined with the smog associated with any large city, creates a pail of smokiness that pervades all vistas.
For Gaudi’s section, entrance is now obtained by booking time slots for each day, providing for a maximum number of visitors going through at any one time. While this upper limit benefits both visitors and the sustainability of the park itself, it also decreases the enjoyment and amenity of the park. Lines of can be seen spread out at the various entrance points around the Gaudi section, and visitors line up for considerable periods of time.
Güell Park is certainly unique and includes a diverse range of Gaudi’s works. A highlight was watching a male flamingo group basking within one of the larger pavilions, promoting both their released CD of music, as well as their live shows. Their professionalism and undoubted skill, performed in an eccentric setting was a high point, and one that Gaudi himself would be appreciative of.
Looking to the future, Barcelona’s city fathers approved an urban plan around 1860, that created the Paseo de Gracia as an important promenade for both horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians alike. Accordingly, many well-to-do families set up residences and the street developed as an architectural showcase. Although originally constructed some thirty years earlier Gaudí was given total creative license to demolish or redesign the building. Gaudí bravely chose the later and was able to create a completely transformed construction using unique structural elements and his developed architectural detailing.
At the time many of the adjacent buildings were being either built or amended by notable architects competing for a prestigious architectural award being convened by the Barcelona City Council. While all of the architects involved belonged to the Catalan Modernisme movement, their architectural styles were extremely differentiated and the adjacent houses have become a tourist attraction because of the display of their contrasting appearances. All the houses have gone on to become UNESCO historic buildings.
The façade of the building highlights the imaginative work of Gaudí, who often worked without formal plans, and the nickname of “the house of bones” is aptly illustrated with the use of slender elements on the lower floors. The upper floors are bought to live with colourful patterns of broken mosaic tiles that was to become a hallmark of much of Gaudí ’s ongoing work. Strikingly, the otherwise conventional face of the upper floors are bought to life by domineering cast wrought iron “masked” balcony handrails. The roof is formed from a wave of colourful tiles, that is often compared to a dragon's back.
Cripta Gaudí - Colònia Güell.
Cripta Gaudí - Colònia Güell is perhaps the pinnacle of Gaudi’s architectural work, although not officially recognised as such, as the still to be finished Basilica de la Sagrada Familia will always be seen as the apogee of his accomplishments. They are quite different, but also related, as the former provided the fertile testing ground for many of the concepts and ideas that were to later be included on such a grand scale in the Cathedral. The Crypt is small, intimate, with a feeling of warmth and possessing a friendly personality. It’s objective was to help cement the working community of Colonia Güell together into a harmonious society, that supported each other, while ensuring a productive workforce for the industrial complex. Conversely, the Cathedral, like most of its like, has been designed with a intent of creating “shock and awe” in the minds of visitors; a place to admire the greatness of Christianity and all that is associated with it.
The Crypt itself formed the base of a significant church to be built at the site, a project that was never finished because of the first world war. The founding concepts of the design, including groundbreaking equilibrium analytical structural design methods incorporating parabolic, hyperbolic, and catenary masonry forms were all developed during the ten years it took Gaudí to create the design. However, while Gaudi personally supervised its construction from 1910 through 1914, some mystery surrounds construction after this as it appears that he took no further part after this date. Given its importance in the formulation of Gaudi’s later works, much speculation has occurred regarding this departure from the project. Cripta Gaudí - Colònia Güell was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2005.
Our trip to the Crypt occurred subsequent to an earlier visit to the Museo Gaudí within the old district of Barcelona. The Mueso Gaudi recognises the contribution that the project made to the development of Gaudi’s design prowess, and emphasised the need to journey to the site at Colonia Güell to view the project. We were fortunate enough to be there at a time where very view other visitors were present, despite being at the height of summer. In a similar manner to the Museo, that fact that crowds of tourists would queue up for hours outside the Cathedral, and other notable works such as Casa Batllo, without having any contextual appreciation appeared astounding to us. The principle of tourists ticking off a “bucket list” of touristic attractions, in many ways is a hollow evaluation of mankind’s accomplishments. Conversely, those taking the time to travel to the Crypt were rewarded with insights of accomplished design and memorable perspectives that made a later visit to the Cathedral more extraordinary. The character and atmosphere that is present within the Crypt is one that very few building possesses. The physical appearance and presentation to the human senses are only matched by the writings of such great phantasy authors as Tolkien ( and such imagery is projected, not created in reality).
Colonia Güell is situated in the near hinterland of Barcelona and therefore getting there appears at first, not to be straightforward. It is unlikely that travellers to Barcelona will possess their own vehicles, and will be reliant on public transport. The city is provided with an excellent train and bus service, even if connection nodes appear at times to be archaic. Several ways are available to get to Colonia Güell and GPS systems that estimate the time to take to get there is extremely conservative. That being said, if interested, travellers should allow plenty of time there as the combined Colonia Güell Museum, and the audioguide tour of relevant buildings remaining in Colonia Guell, and the Crypt itself, will take over two hours. Visitors should allow a half day, and total time including travel can amount to four hours or more - time well spent.